Braeburn walked out of his home, ready to start the day with jovial gusto. Today was a big day for the town of Appleloosa, as it was harvest season, and that meant that all hooves were needed to buck all the trees in the orchard. Sometimes, they even needed to bring in some extra help from the buffalo tribes, though they were always happy to help since it meant that they would receive the apple pies sooner than later.
Righting his signature cowcolt hat, he gave a nod to a passing pony dragging a large wagon down the town's main street towards the neighboring orchards. The day would be filled with hard labor and lots of sweat as they worked through the day to clear as much of the orchard as possible before sundown. He stepped off towards the orchard, bounding around a corner only to meet a familiar face.
"Howdy there, Chief Thunderhooves!" Braeburn said. "Here to help with the harvest?"
The chieftain nodded. "It looks like a good harvest this year. I wouldn't suppose you'll be needing extra hooves?"
"Why, shucks, I was just on my way to ask ya!" Braeburn said. "We'd love to have your help! We fell behind last season due to a small drought, so we have to pick it back up quickly if we want to be on schedule for next year!"
Thunderhooves chuckled. "That, and I still need to catch up with Sheriff Silverstar with a drink. That drought was stopped in no small part from my tribe, you know. Our nomadic ways help nourish the land by rejuvenating the fertility of the dirt. Though, considering expansion of the town... it would be hard-pressed to make it happen without causing a larger drought than last year."
"Oh, tarnation. Well, we don't want to step on any tails here, and the Apple family's already got enough on their hooves with our orchards all over Equestria. The town's fine as it is, so rest assured, chief, you won't be hearin' any more trouble from us."
"Indeed. Now, I believe Silverstar said something about some extra help?"
"Yep! On top of you buffalos, a few of the Apple family had some extra time, and send them down here to help us! Let's go meet 'em at the station," Braeburn said, nodding down the street. "Maybe you can meet some more of the Apple family, huh?" he laughed.
Braeburn trotted up the stairs to the Appleloosa train station, humming to himself. Chief Thunderhooves stepped up behind him, always curious as to the nature of the train; the buffalo, when the ponies had first completed it, were amazed that such a contraption could create such a thunderous noise much like the buffalo did when they stampeded, and were even more amazed that train was being pulled by a small number of ponies.
"Oh, look! Here they come now!" Braeburn said. The train slowly pulled past them as it rolled to a stop, giving out a loud hiss as the the engine vacated its heated contents. The doors to the train opened and out stepped a small group of ponies. "Howdy, relatives! Welcome to Aaaaaaaappleloosa! It's a mighty honor to have you all here, just in time for applebuckin' season!"
"Oh, shoot, t'ain't no problem!" one of them said. "You're all famly, so when we heard y'all needed help, we got down here in a jiffy! S'alright, though, the rest of our family can tend to our orchards just fine."
"Well, I thank y'all just the same! Now, I think the rest of the family's already gotten down to applebuckin' already, so let's see if they need any helping hooves--hey!" Braeburn turned around to see a group of blue-clad figures appear out of thin air. "Well, howdy there, strangers! Welcome to Aaaaaaaappleloosa, home of one of the largest Apple family orchards!"
The figures ignored him, immediately jumping to whatever their business in the town appeared to be.
"Well, that's a little rude..." Thunderhooves noted.
"Hey now, strangers!" Braeburn said. "Uh... enjoy your stay in Appleloosa?" He turned to look at his relatives, only to receive shrugs. "Well, let's go to applebuckin' before the sun hits high noo--" There was the sound of loud booms and dinging noises as the ruckus originated from downtown Appleloosa.
"Braeburn!" Thunderhooves shouted. "Get the townsfolk to safety! I'll go warn Sheriff Silverstar!" He nodded and ran off into town, taking the outlying path that led to the side of the sheriff's office.
"Help! Help! Bandits!" shouted a pony, hopping behind a wagon and taking cover. She was joined by a stallion clutching a filly, huddling together as the chaos around them intensified.
"What the buck are these things?" the stallion cursed. "And during applebuckin' season, too!" Several apples were shredded by their weapons as the group moved closer together. "Stay down, and stay close!"
"Oh, Celestia! Somepony! Help!" the mare screamed.
They felt the ground quake as Chief Thunderhooves appeared before them. "Quick!" he said. "Take cover in the buildings, and protect the mares and foals! I'm on my way to find Sheriff Silverstar!" He ran off, as the stallion gathered his nerves.
"Come on! Let's not keep the others waitin'!" He put the foal on his back. "Don't you worry, kid, I'll make sure we'll all get out of this!" He held the mare by the shoulders. "Follow me. And don't look back. Okay?" The terrified mare nodded shakily. "Alright! Let's go!"
Stuck in the middle of the street between buildings, the stallion peeked around to see that there were two groups fighting each other: tan-clad ones wearing masks of some sort, and blue-clad ones with rather intimidating looking attire. They seemed to ignore several ponies running by them, focusing their own efforts on each other.
"Okay! Go! Run now!" he shouted, pointing at the saloon just across from them. He stomped forward, ignoring the scene around him, fully absorbed by the sight of the wooden double doors in front of him. The foal on his back cried loudly, only intensifying the urgency of the situation. He didn't stop to see whether or not the mare had followed him, smashing through the doors and slamming into the ground.
"Sweet heavens to Betsy, buddy!" the bartender said, picking him up off his hooves. "You bolted in through like a train on fire! What in the hay's going on out there, anyway?!"
"I... I don't know! One minute, we're haulin' back the apple harvest, then another, there's noise and explosions all over the place! And that dinging noise! I keep hearing it!"
"I heard it, too! Oh, Celestia, where's the sheriff?!"
"Silverstar!" Thunderhooves roared. "Where are you?!" He skidded to a stop just as one of the tan-clad finished his kill with a ding, switching out his strange booming stick for another matte-black instrument of war. "Out of my way, creature! Your kind have caused enough trouble for this town!" He swiped his hoof at him, only for it to phase through the creature's form as if it were a... ghost?!
Thunderhooves stepped back, shocked by this new discovery. Had Appleloosa been built upon the ancient burial grounds of a long-dead warrior race? And were they now returning to continue their endless fight, with the unwitting ponies caught between it all? But unlike a being from the beyond, the creature could affect objects! He saw how their strange weapons tore through the apples with ease. To imagine such harm being done to any creature, pony or otherwise, was a chilling thought.
Then the strange tan-clad turned towards him, aiming his weapon straight at him. Realizing that he had no time to flee, Thunderhooves shielded his eyes, preparing for the inevitable.
*BANG BANG BANG*
He opened his eyes, and looked down at his chest. He wasn't full of holes! Or dead! Turning around, he saw the body of a blue-clad strewn out behind him. Looking back at the tan-clad, he noticed that the weapon has changed, being considerably more block-like than his previous one. They garnered new weapons by gaining kills from their opponents? Thunderhooves shuddered: how barbaric.
The tan-clad ran off past him, only for him to be sniped from long-range by a blue-clad with a long-barreled green weapon. Thunderhooves took no further time waiting and stampeded straight for the sheriff's office. With any due luck, he would already have a plan ready, and perhaps they could solve this problem once and for all.
Sheriff Silverstar quickly looked around his office for any weapons he could use to fight. But, really, bandits? And here of all places! Bandits hadn't been seen for years around Equestria, and now they decide to show up wielding Celestia-only-knows-whats that sounded like lightning striking the same place multiple times! The townsfolk weren't safe, but he couldn't do anything as a sheriff without a weapon!
Scrounging through his desk, he only gave a huff of frustration when the only things he found within was a piece of paper and a quill. As if he was going to look intimidating charging at these things with a quill!
"Silverstar!" he heard a voice roar from outside. The humongous form of Thunderhooves slammed through the doors, the feathers on his hat frayed with dirt. "Are you here?!"
"I'm right here, Thunderhooves!" Silverstar said, running over to a file cabinet and looking inside. "Drat! Ain't there anythin' I can use to fight against those bandits?!"
"I believe they might not be bandits, but for the moment, our priority is safety for the ponies! We have to evacuate them from the town!"
"I agree!" Silverstar reached behind a cabinet and pulled out a shovel. "Great! This'll have to do for now. Let's get everypony down to the train station and get outta here!"
"No! That won't work!" Thunderhooves said. "They seemingly have the ability to endlessly appear, and a group of them always show up at the train station!"
"Buck! Has anypony been hurt yet?"
"Actually, these creatures are completely incapable of hurting ponies... I should know, they attacked me with their weapons, only for it to have no effect."
They were interrupted as a tan-clad burst in through the doors firing his machinegun, the roar of the weapon forcing the two to take cover and protect their ears from the onslaught of noise. Silverstar poked his head over the desk, noticing the being had its back to him, too concerned with eliminating the opposition to notice the pony, if it even cared to do so at all.
"Eat this, you crazy creature!" He slid over the desktop and leaped at the tan-clad, shovel in hoof ready to bring down Appleloosan justice upon the intruder. The shovel was brought into a wide arc above his head, swinging downward with a force intended to completely incapacitate the tan-clad with a strong blow to the back of his head. "Hi-yah!"
The shovel went clear through the being and slammed into the floor with a ping. Silverstar looked up at the backside of the tan-clad, who had completely ignored him and was switching out his weapon with a handgun.
"Silverstar!" Thunderhooves said. "We have to get out of here and get the ponies to safety! They can't hurt us, but we can't hurt them either!"
"Tarnation!" Silverstar spat, tossing the shovel aside. "Then let's get the buck outta here!"
The tan-clad ran out the door, only to be gunned down upon exiting, as Silverstar and Thunderhooves sidestepped his falling body as they made a break down the main street of the town. In the distance, they could see Braeburn leading a large group of ponies underneath the building awnings, towards the orchard fields and avoiding the commotion in the middle of the streets.
"Braeburn!" Thunderhooves shouted. The cowcolt-hat-wearing stallion stopped and noticed them, and nodded towards the orchard.
"I'll meet y'all over there!" he shouted back.
"Braeburn!" Silverstar said, curling his mustache. "What in tarnation is going on here?!"
"You tell me, Sheriff!" Braeburn responded, the group of ponies behind him huffing and puffing as they sat underneath the shade of the orchard. "One minute, everything's all right and fine with the Apple family showin' up at the train station to help us with the harvest, the next minute, it's like a hoedown with too much cider around here!"
"Oh, no!" a mare shouted. "My foal! Has anypony seen my foal?!" There was worried conversation as the mare frantically searched throughout the crowd looking for her child.
"Buck," Silverstar cursed again. "This day just keeps gettin' better and better... Alright, Thunderhooves, Braeburn, we're headin' back in to look for that foal. Ain't nopony gonna be left behind on our watch!" Braeburn and Thunderhooves nodded, until there was the glance of sadness around the orchard.
"Gonna be late on this harvest again, too, huh...?" Braeburn said.
"Nonsense!" shouted the same mare from the train station. "So long as those critters are doin' their stupid thing in the town, we're safe out here! Come on, y'all, let's make this harvest count!" She walked over to the worried mother. "Don't worry, Braeburn and the rest'll bring your foal back safely. So don't worry, 'kay?"
Another stallion stepped up to direct the group. "Alright, ponies! We got the barns all set up on the north side of town, full of wagons! Let's go hitch them up and get them out here! If we make good time, we can be done with the harvest and outta this town before sundown! I'm sure y'all don't wanna stay here any longer than ya have to, right?!" There was a large murmur of agreement from the ponies.
"Can we grab our stuff before we leave town?" another stallion asked.
"Right, well, if any of y'all wanna make a mad dash for yer houses after we're all said and done with the harvest, feel free to do so. But anypony that isn't at the train station when the sun goes down has to deal with livin' around these cretins 'till they either get rid of each other, or Celestia herself flies down here and exiles 'em all to the moon."
"Please..." the mother said to Braeburn. "Please find her. My husband and I live just off of the main street, just two houses away from the saloon. You can't miss it, we have a wind chime outside the house."
Braeburn tipped his hat to her. "Will do, ma'am. We'll bring your foal back safe and sound."
"So, everypony good?" the group leader said. "Then let's get started!"
The ponies dispersed towards the barns as Silverstar, Braeburn, and Thunderhooves galloped for town to look for the filly. Appleloosa roared with the noise of cracks and booms.
"Sweet Celestia's sun!" Silverstar shouted, running through the streets as the bullets flew around them. "I ain't never seen anything like this in all my years of sheriff! I think I might eat my hat when this is all done, 'cause I think I've seen just about everything now!"
"There!" Braeburn said, veering right down a side street. "I see the house's chimes right outside the door!" Though it was distinct and barely discernible, the sound of a foal crying could be heard above the din of battle. "Thunderhooves! We don't got the time, smash through the door! We can just replace it later!"
"Will do!" Thunderhooves took the lead and slammed into the door, breaking it into splinters as Silverstar and Braeburn split up to search the house; the former on the ground floor, and the latter on the second floor.
"I found her!" Braeburn found the baby crying within its own crib, desperate for attention. "Don't worry, young 'un, you'll be safe." He quickly grabbed a nearby blanket and wrapped the filly into a tight bundle, taking special care to grab another larger blanket and wrapping the bundle around his neck. They wouldn't have time to carry her properly, so he needed her to be secured.
Silverstar and Thunderhooves were waiting downstairs for Braeburn, observing the humans fighting outside. By this time, their more destructive and louder weapons had been swapped out, and a majority of them ran around with handheld variants. Some even carried one in each hand, standing off in the streets like some old Western movie.
"Y'ready yet, Braeb--" Silverstar turned to see the cowcolt walking down the stairs, the foal cooing in its adorable bundle. "Oh. Let's get the bu--uh, I mean, let's get outta here!" he said, catching his profanity before it could leave the front door. "That harvest ain't gonna collect itself!"
"Let's get movin'!" Braeburn said. The three ran out into the street, noticing the temporary lull in the fighting. They noticed a blue-clad waiting for potential targets behind a wagon, oblivious to his impending doom. Above him, a tan-clad observed his prey, brandishing a golden knife. He jumped off the roof and landed deftly behind the blue-clad, sneaking up behind him and stabbing into his back.
"Huh-what now?!" Silverstar said. "Where'd that voice come from?"
"Less talkin', more runnin'!" Braeburn shouted, as they made their way through the streets back to the orchard. As they passed the train station, they noticed the blue-clads materialize out of thin air again... they apparently showed no intention of leaving. This was going to be a long day...
"Alright, that's the last of 'em!" the group leader shouted. "Scatter down on home and grab yer belongings, 'cause we are gettin' outta of this here town 'till we can get this settled... preferably with a whole battalion of royal guards. Now git! We don't got all evenin'!" He pulled the heavy bolted lock on the door and gave a nod of approval. They were finally done... surprising how the threat of losing the harvest could inspire ponies to finish several days' worth of work in just one.
The ponies of Appleloosa quickly returned to town to pack their bags and gather at the train station. The train ponies had been given leave to rest for most of the day, as the whole group would be making their way up to Canterlot to appeal to the Princesses to stop this insane situation before it got even worse. They just hoped that the Princess would be inclined to believe their rather far-fetched story on beings appearing out of nowhere and then terrorizing the town.
Braeburn sat down, fanning himself with his hat. He looked over and watched as the mother tended to her foal, wrapping the young colt with the bundled blankets he had delivered to her with, as the night was growing colder. Braeburn himself didn't have much to bring, so he decided to let the accommodations at Canterlot make up for it. At least he had his bits on him.
The ponies had grown less panicky when passing through town, but that didn't make the damage to the doors, windows, and various objects around Appleloosa any less worse. It would take a lot of ponypower and work-hours to replace all those, and they definitely weren't going to do anything about it until the problem was solved... fixing things only to have them broken again wasn't exactly a smart idea.
Silverstar was speaking with the train ponies, willing to pay for transit for the entire town to Canterlot. Thankfully, they understood their plight, and although they couldn't outright do it for free, they cut the cost substantially. Silverstar was thankful that most of Appleloosa's coffers would still have bits in them after this whole ordeal was over.
"Are you ready to leave now, Braeburn?" Thunderhooves asked.
"Better now than never, I guess. What about you? Gonna head back to your tribe?"
Thunderhooves nodded. "I think my appearance at Canterlot would only cause more trouble than needed. Besides, I believe being gone a whole day has been long enough, and I'd rather be present should these... warriors appear somewhere other than Appleloosa, as well."
"Well, shucks. Good luck with that, then. It was good havin' your help around the farm today. I ain't never seen any pony buck a tree like that before... well, then again, you ain't a pony," Braeburn laughed.
"It was good to help our friends today," Thunderhooves said, nodding. "Besides, I would hate to think what might happen to those delicious apple pies if the harvest had been ruined. A lot of my own look forward to this trade every year. Aside from that, I'm surprised we finished in such record time. The sun has only just begun to set!"
"Well, dang, I hadn't noticed." Braeburn dusted off his vest and stood up. "Well, I'd best be gettin' on down to the train station now. Don't wanna keep all the other folks waitin'. You stay safe now, y'hear?"
"You don't have to worry about that," Thunderhooves chuckled. "I'm an old buffalo, and I can take care of myself. You stay safe, too, Braeburn. You and all your pony friends and relatives."
"Thanks, Chief." They shook each other's hooves, and then separated for the time being.
By the time Braeburn arrived at the train station, the line stretched all the way out the door and spilled into the street. Dozens of luggage cases and burlap sacks sat laying around as the ponies slowly inched their way onto the train, ready to leave the mayhem of today's happenings and enjoy a quiet peaceful night in Canterlot. There might be a few naysayer frou-frou ponies in Canterlot, but they would pay them no mind; the Apple family and their close friends usually never did.
Braeburn found a secluded space on the carriage, and lulled himself to sleep, the noise from the train tracks, the dinging noises, and the cracks of battle from Appleloosa the only sounds remaining in the air.
At least he won't be seeing those guys again for any time soon...
...or so he thought.
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